Saturday, February 23, 2008

Drugs, Crime and Choice

The conviction of Steve Wright for the murders of five prostitutes in Ipswich has led to another outbreak of commentary on prostitution and the assertion that most prostitutes are 'driven to' prostitution by their drug addiction and have therefore not 'made a choice' to become 'sex workers.'

I don't dispute for a moment that many (though not all) prostitutes have turned to prostitution to help fund a drug habit. But I don't recall this argument ever being used in the same way in relation to young men who fund their drug addiction by burglary and other forms of property crime.
In recent years, most forms of property crime have fallen sharply. A large proportion of what remains is accounted for by multiple offences by people with expensive drug habits. Whilst nobody in possession of the facts disputes this, you will never hear people say that a young burglar or car thief (usually male) was 'forced' to commit the crimes by his drug habit or that he had 'no choice' but to resort to theft or that he is in some way a 'victim' and that society should be doing more to help such people.
(Some male addicts may also practise prostitution to fund their habit. That they do so less than women is probably partly because males are usually required to do more sexually than lie back and think of where the next fix is coming from).

I don't want to get into the question of 'choice' in these matters, partly because I'm not sure what I think. Hardline moralists would argue that even drug addicts have a choice about whether they sell their bodies or resort to theft or other crimes.
I'm more concerned with our old friends 'double standards', 'generalisation' and 'gender-based judgements'.

These also appear regularly in relation to pornography. The feminist line is that 'all pornography degrades women', regardless of whether free choice has been involved - although the extreme position is that there can never be a free choice. (It is, of course, a legitimate moral position to say that all pornography degrades both participants and users).
But the standard feminist line is deeply flawed. How does male gay pornography degrade women? How does lesbian pornography, made by and for lesbians - not the male fantasy stuff, degrade women? If men who appear in pornography are also degraded or not making a free choice, you don't hear feminists saying so. That's because, as with prostitution, it's portrayed as part of a male conspiracy against women.

There's no doubt that gender inequality means that women are more often victims than men in prostitution, pornography and other areas (not forgetting the second-class status that many religions assign to women). But the problem with the outbreak of comment at times like this that comes from a 'feminist' perspective is that it's an 'ism'.
It's an ideological view of the world that ignores inconvenient facts, uses sweeping generalisations and focuses on 'gender' when it should be focusing on 'people'.


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